” Spirodopoulos called as he descended.
Berat glanced up, his smile widening even further in spite of the caution it took him to set down his drink without spilling.
“’Avzayn! Seplotoke de’ekel!
” he invited. Do join us!
He did not beckon as most people might have, but his bright eyes made his feelings quite transparent.
Spirodopoulos smiled. It would be easy—and perfectly acceptable in Cardassian society for Gul Berat to maintain a stronger separation between himself and his crew, to eat away from them and not let his physical difficulties be seen in this way. And especially not around
‘Star’hvliyt-çăs,’ Spirodopoulos added. But Berat didn’t do that.
“Commander,” he greeted as soon as Spirodopoulos sat, “I trust all is well back on the Trager
“For the most part,” Spirodopoulos confirmed, “though there are still a few minor problems with food and accommodations.” Glancing over at Berat, he tried to avoid breathing too deeply around the bowl of toçal
the Cardassian was working on. It looked something like liquefied cranberry sauce, except it smelled like a rather unholy blend between cranberries and chili peppers. And it was steaming
, Spirodopoulos thought, I’m going to have to do this man a service and introduce him to
glyka tou koutaliou, if I can get the replicator to make it!
“It’s the same here—Dr. Hetalc has seen several patients already.” With a rueful smile as he glanced at his dessert…at least, Spirodopoulos thought
it was a dessert…he added, “It seems Cardassian tastes in food aren’t exactly shared across the galaxy, though I’ve got to give credit to some of your people for trying. I’m not quite sure what it is about us…I’ll have to ask Hetalc sometime. Anyway, we’re doing our best to pool all of our imported recipes together, but Central Command didn’t particularly want to give its servants a taste for the foreign. If there are any among you who know anything about replicator programming, it would be helpful if they would add to our menu. But more importantly…please tell your people, if anyone is having stomach complaints or any other unusual symptoms, they need
to see their ship’s doctor. If their friends are having problems, they shouldn’t let it go. We can’t have anyone falling ill from malnourishment—let me tell you, that is not
a pleasant experience.”
This was a very real concern for aliens aboard a starship whose systems weren’t set up to accommodate multiple species; all it took was one missing vitamin or one incompatible ingredient to bring on all sorts of stomach upsets, nutritional deficiencies, and allergic reactions all the way up to and including anaphylactic shock or even death.
In an officer exchange, the necessary information was usually exchanged between ships’ doctors beforehand. In this case, the Cardassians had apparently tried to anticipate the needs of their soon-to-be guests—members of the most populous Federation coreworld species…and Bajorans…could call up special replicator routines designed to add or substitute nutrients as appropriate even if they ate Cardassian food. Those from worlds more infrequently represented in Starfleet—such as the Mathenite, Te-Mae-Do, were at greater risk; the doctors were working on programs for them from scratch. And already there had been a few nasty cases of what a few of the Starfleet officers had called ‘Dukat’s Revenge’ when they thought no one else was listening.
But right then, what intrigued Spirodopoulos the most was the personal experience Berat seemed to allude to. How was it he knew what it was to be malnourished? The Greek officer wanted very much to ask, but had a feeling that even with this man, it might well be a sensitive subject.
Berat was too quick with a question of his own, though, for Spirodopoulos to get even close to asking. “What about you? How have you been feeling?”
Spirodopoulos offered a polite smile. “Well, so far.”
He fell silent for a moment; the Cardassian seemed to need a moment to concentrate on his water glass. As for Spirodopoulos—his own mind still had not stopped churning as yet another test, another objection floated to its surface, absolutely confounding him with the timing of it. Should he have thought of this sooner? Could this
be the point at which all of the Cardassians’ carefully-crafted stories fell apart?
When Berat looked up again, he scrutinized Spirodopoulos—perhaps unsure of the intensity of the human’s ridgeless features. “You seem to have something you’d like to say,” Berat finally announced.
Might as well
, Spirodopoulos decided. “I do.” Not only did he
want to see how the Cardassians would answer the question, but Lieutenant Haeruuh and the rest also deserved to hear and judge the answer. “I want to know just how it is you managed to use shuttlecraft
to get us to the surface of Lessek with two hostile bases and all those Jem’Hadar there in orbit. Unless you want me to believe somehow that they weren’t around when you snuck in, or that you stole a cloaking device…”
Berat actually flinched back for a second, blinking his great blue eyes. “Spiro—S…Commander, I…” Gul Berat paused, tractoring his eyes to his utensils as he laid them cautiously on his napkin, then folded his hands in his lap. “I know nothing else but to tell you exactly what we did, and to let that speak for itself. I hope that will be enough—because it’s all I have to give.” Only after his words were out did he look back over at Spirodopoulos for a brief second out of the corner of his eye.
Spirodopoulos’ breath caught. Had he finally caught one of the Cardassians in a lie? But then some species don’t use eye contact the way most humans do
, he remembered. He mentally kicked himself—one of the first things a security officers had to do was school himself out of his innate reactions when dealing with other species, for in some races and cultures avoidance behaviors signaled anything from shame to submission to reverence…not necessarily guilt, and in some cases, the very opposite.
“You might recall that the planet’s composition causes sensor interference,” the gul flatly stated. “That is only part of it. Before we even entered the system, our ships were already deployed and trailing us within our warp bubble so no sensors detected a sudden increase of energy when the shuttles would launch. Our own systems were slightly depowered…together, it looked no different from what the signature of a Gălor
ought to. We entered orbit on the opposite side of the planet, and that’s where the shuttles would separate from us, and we would phase our own power back to full levels. As for the shuttles…they flew just barely below supersonic speeds, close enough to the surface that the Lessekda interference hid them from all but visual scanners…and in that we were fortunate.”
That was the way the
Hide’eki did during the battle, or the way the old American Stealth fighters hid from radar.
He’d been there. He’d staked his life
on that hope. And he’d lived.
The Cardassian gul fell silent, his entire body—at least what Spirodopoulos could see—unusually still. I actually hurt his feelings
, Spirodopoulos realized. It was not an epiphany that sat well with him.
,” the human replied—literally, I can understand
, more figuratively, That makes sense
. “Itun…nouthoreks pre’evit rou’ouk itun, tourop ed—
ah…tourop edek nou.
” Spirodopoulos paused. “I hope I got that right.” What the Greek commander had said was, When they finish the tests, I will accept.
And with that final aspect marker, he implied…at least he hoped he did: That acceptance will hold
,” Berat acknowledged, smiling faintly as he nodded. “Loyot
.” You speak
. “We do not want to take
your trust,” he declared. “We never
wanted that—even at the beginning when we couldn’t let you see the truth about us. We want that trust to be earned…if you will let us.”
“Gul Berat…I thank you for your explanation.” The young gul dipped his head again, just slightly—a nod of approval, yes, but tinged with disappointment at such noncommittal words. And why shouldn’t he be?
Spirodopoulos thought. God help us, we’re wearing the same armor! We have bled together, even honored our dead together—they named a ship for Ensign Ngaer! Yet to keep asking and keep asking them to prove themselves…how can that be
It was time, as soon as those tests came back—and deep down he had a feeling what the answer was going to be…time to put aside the role of the eternal skeptic, time to pray and from there to go where the Spirit had been leading since the night the Cardassians had woken him. They could fight together…now they had to live
together, and it was time for him to lead his people in that
Spirodopoulos clarified. “You are
earning trust.” He wasn’t sure how the Federation Standard words would translate…Cardăsda had no present progressive tense, but then again, neither did Greek, and he thought
in that language, though he hadn’t allowed himself the luxury lately except for his dreams. He felt reasonably confident, therefore, that his emphasis would make sense: a work neither complete nor static, one that moved towards its goal even at that very moment.
Berat bowed more visibly now, insofar as one could do so from a sitting position. “You honor me, Commander.”
The Caitian lieutenant, Haeruuh, finally paused between copious gulps of water. The heat of the Cardassian vessel, combined with the armor he wore, had put Haeruuh at a higher risk of heat exhaustion than most of the species joining the Thirteenth Order, so even outside the mess hall he constantly carried a refrigerating canteen, and had the privilege, such as it was, of using a storage closet off the bridge as an escape to cooler air whenever he required it on shift. Ever cautious, Dr. Istep had even installed a medical monitor in Haeruuh’s wristcomm to alert the physician in case the Caitian overheated—this over Haeruuh’s protests, but when he had beamed over to the Sherouk
, Dr. Hetalc had seconded Istep’s insistence.
Haeruuh spoke now: “Gul Berat,” he began, his accent rendering the sound something more like Qul Perraht
, with the alien rank a nearly voiceless sound rumbling from the back of his throat, “this technique you describe—it sounds Bajoran.”
“That’s because it is,” Berat confirmed. “With modifications, but that’s where it comes from. The Bajorans…pioneered many techniques for use against a superior military force in the modern era. And they often used our own equipment to do it. And well
.” Haeruuh’s slitted pupils dilated wide, and his ears twitched as if to see if the unexpected words would stay in, or fall out. “Be careful where you say that,” Berat emphasized. “And especially not where Gul Speros might hear.” Spirodopoulos could almost hear the young commander say, I have more than a bit of experience with
that. “But it is true…and some of us, myself and Glinn Daro especially, felt it behooved us to learn from those techniques, and apply them—within certain bounds, of course.”
“And what bounds
do you think the Bajorans should have kept to?” the Andorian zh’Thessel prodded.
“zh’Thessel—” Spirodopoulos warned—
Something flashed white in the nebular cloud. The deck pitched up under Spirodopoulos’ feet and plates and silverware slid from the table with a gamelan-like clatter. Gul Berat reached instinctively for his glass, but missed; it shot past Spirodopoulos and onto the floor and he winced even as he stood. “Forget about it, Gul!” one of the young mess hall staff called, waving off Berat and all of the others whose food and drink had scattered—but most especially Berat. Go!
his wide-ringed eyes were saying. And those eyes spoke trust.